Doctor suggests 'symbolic' mutilation

A Somali-born doctor now practising in Italy is seeking to be allowed to perform a "symbolic" operation as an alternative to female genital mutilation (FGM) for African immigrants in the country.

Florence-based Dr Omar Abdulcadir has proposed that the hospital where he works should allow him to perform the operation, to prevent women taking their children back to Africa to have it done illegally.

Genital mutilation, a traditional practice amongst many African communities, has been linked with a number serious injuries and malformations - including a risk of death in childbirth.

"We see the complications with genital mutilation, we see little babies go back to their countries and have mutilation," Dr Abdulcadir told the BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"This is the only way that we can help."

'No pain'

Dr Abdulcadir's proposed operation is to withdraw blood from the clitoris using local anaesthetic.

"We break in with the needle, and we have one or two drops of blood," he explained.

"We don't have an injury, no pain, and we save the condition of these people."

He added that this type of operation was very different to traditional female genital mutilation, which, in the most extreme cases, can involve the complete removal of the clitoris and labia and the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood - a process known as infibulation.

Dr Abdulcadir said that his operation was "not mutilation" but a "symbolic alternative."

Female circumcision is a highly controversial issue, which raises many conflicting and heartfelt views.

Many women's groups, particularly in the West, are horrified at a practice that can leave girls with serious injuries and malformations, including dysmenorrhoea - when women are unable to have periods - sterility and infertility, and other complications during pregnancy.

But others view it as a religious requirement in order to keep girls chaste.

And women in some traditional societies say that girls who haven't been subjected to the practice may be shunned and unable to marry.

We are working against FGM and of course, as African women, we are against this operation on girls' bodies

Marian Ismail

Association of Somali Mothers and Children

Dr Abdulcadir said that there was a real problem with women taking their children to be mutilated - and that it was happening in Italy.

"Some of them want to do the genital mutilation. They either want to go back home, or they try to get someone to perform this tradition in Europe," he stated.

"I see many people that now have children who are 10 or 11 years old. They came to Europe five or six years ago. They are mutilated. I think somebody has done this."


However, other women's groups have attacked Dr Abdulcadir's plans, arguing that female genital mutilation should not be allowed in any form.

"We are very angry about this," Marian Ismail, president of the Milan-based Association of Somali Mothers and Children, told Outlook.

"We are working against FGM and of course, as African women, we are against this operation on girls' bodies."

She added that, while it was important to preserve the differences between African and Western culture, this did not apply to FGM.

And she argued that her group had been explaining to Somali women that FGM was not a part of Islamic tradition.

Changing attitudes

This had met with some success, she said - in 1990, 99% of female babies had FGM performed on them, but that figure was now 60%.

She said that the Somali community it Italy had "really changed their mentality.

"There are not more than 100 girls at risk in Italy," she added.

Dr Abdulcadir said that he himself would be happy to see the practice disappear.

"My proposal is one of 1,000 proposals," he said.

"If they have some other proposal, I will accept. I want only to save these children, only save these little babies."